Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Multitasking Samurai.

Our life in this modern world requires that we are on the go and connected. Your boss expects you to have your mobile phone with you even after hours and on weekends. People expect instant responses to e-mails and I have clients calling at all times of the day and night expecting that I drop everything to look after them even at the expense of my wife and kids.

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Multitasking has become the buzzword and unfortunately is misunderstood. The fact of the matter is our brains, amazing creations that they are, are really poorly equipped to focus on more than one task at a time, especially if the tasks are complicated. Sure, you will be able to do many tasks in a day, but the reality is if you try to do them all together your will be inefficient and probably make mistakes where if you complete a task, before moving onto the next task you will get more done and make far less mistakes. You can try this simple experiment to see how poorly equipped we are at multitasking:
Make two cups of coffee and stir them both at the same time, one with the left hand in a clockwise direction and one with the right hand in an anti-clockwise direction.

The task is by no means complicated, you have probably made a few thousand cups of coffee/tea in your lifetime, but the simple complication of stirring in different directions adds a dimension which requires considerable mental effort. Imagine how much more effort is required to carry out two unfamiliar task of greater complexity.

In this simple example you will really lose no time by stirring one, completing the task, before stirring the second.

The Samurai had already figured this out centuries ago and have mastered the art of clearing the mind - Mune Muso. In this state of 'no mind' nothing distracted him from the task at hand. It does not matter if that task is making tea or cutting down an enemy the Samurai's focus was complete on a single task. This is definitely the case with competition. You do not enter a boxing ring while worrying about the mortgage or your marketing budget, You do not step up to the line in the All Japan Karate Championships while thinking about which e-mails you need to answer and it is an absolute given that no one in the mens 4x100m hurdles at the olympics will have a mobile phone with them at the starting line.

Yet strangely enough it has become accepted in the business world that while you are working, you will accept multiple calls and answer your email. This does not make any sense at all unless you are a switchboard operator who's job it is to answer calls.

If you want to get the most out of your dojo sessions then make sure you are not multitasking, and clear your mind. If you have a bunch of things rushing through your mind consider making a to-do list, for after the session. This way you have let your mind know that you will not forget a task and it is easier to put the clutter out of your mind.

You can do the same in business. Start your day with a to-do list or with a to-do list created at the end of business the previous day. Then work according to the list and complete a task before moving on to the next task. Consider leaving your mobile phone, and e-mail turned off for the first part of the day, or at least until you have completed critical tasks on your to-do list. I believe you will definitely see an increase in productivity and experience a less stressful day.

I would love to hear what you think.

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The image I used in this post is by The Ghost of a Flea and comes from flickr. It is used with permission. If you get a chance, visit his flickr photostream here.

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The Book of Five Rings

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. - Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin